Anchor Bay // 1997 // 620 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // February 16th, 2005
"It's H-E-double-L and you're listening to the Voice of the Millennium. Now here's an oldie but goodie for my old friend, Duncan MacLeod." -- Ahriman
Over the last five seasons, Highlander: The Series has captivated our imaginations with a rich blend of fantasy, realism, and swordplay. Based on a fascinating premise of Immortal warriors who walk the Earth as humans, Highlander took us around the globe and through history as it detailed the exploits of the heroic Duncan MacLeod. Though the show experimented with different tones and themes that were both successful and non, there was always a solid core. Bad Immortals. Colorful friends for Duncan, such as Amanda, Joe, Richie, and Methos. Romance, humor, and stunning sword battles. Above all, we had a brooding, wise, and compelling lead in Adrian Paul, an actor with the raw charisma, physical presence, and enthusiasm to carry the series even through its low points.
Take all of it away and you get Season Six.
That pesky Ahriman is still around, and will apparently keep reanimating random people and giving Duncan gas pains until Duncan faces him fair and square. If you're wondering whether or not Duncan will triumph, please skip to The Evidence below.
Once he dispatches the unpleasant demon, Duncan MacLeod takes a well-earned vacation and essentially plays second fiddle for the rest of the season. In his stead, the producers try out a series of young women who will pick up the mantle in a spinoff series called Highlander: The Raven. Meanwhile, Adrian Paul was off exploring other opportunities. The combination of stranger roulette for the lead role, the absence of nearly every recurring Highlander character, and the Highlander himself playing milk-carton victim leads to a highly unusual Highlander season. At least there were only thirteen episodes.
What went right this season? Anchor Bay's packaging has been slightly refined, with two discs per leaf instead of one. That eliminates the eight-foot-tall accordion that many consumers protest. An uptick in video quality makes the sixth season cleaner than the rest, with strong contrast and reduced presence of video artifacts. There is still a nice slate of extras. And for the first time, a couple of episodes (although not all) have chapter stops after the opening credits. Whew, that one has been bugging me for five seasons.
I've danced around the issue long enough: These episodes reek. From the moment we rejoined the unfortunate Ahriman subplot, I was disenchanted. Some of the Highlander creative team seems to be fond of this plotline, and I can't help but wonder why (assuming they were actually fans of the series that came before). Highlander is implausible as it is. The minute we have Indiana Jones–lite raiding buried temples and facing mist demons that shoot laser beams while laughing evilly, I'm thinking that Highlander has jumped the shark for good. Sadly, that is exactly what happened.
Let's say for the sake of argument that you like the idea of Duncan confronting an ageless, noncorporeal deity that plays dirty (on a small-minded scale). Let's pretend that lines like "I need to understand the nature of true Evil and then I can fight this thing" don't make you cringe. Let's say you're okay with the lack of flashbacks, swordplay, Immortal concerns, or any of the other elements that have characterized the show. When this Ahriman sideshow finally ends, the season continues in a form that is nearly unrecognizable. I don't mind the occasional departure from the norm; the series has always taken risks. But what is Highlander without Duncan, Richie, Joe, Methos, or Amanda? What is Highlander when tastefully integrated flashbacks and sword battles are replaced by a stream of gun-toting vigilante Immortals taking on corrupt mortals? Well, it is Season Six, it is a different show altogether, and one that I found distinctly unpalatable.
I've voiced my displeasure in detail in the episode summaries, so if you're curious you can dive into those. But since the season is essentially a wash, let me take this moment to critique the extras.
Seasons Three, Four, and Five gave us a bevy of extra content that is unlike anything I've ever seen. The scope, detail, and quality of the extras were nearly flawless given the reality of the show's age, ratings, and budget. This is not Seinfeld or Band of Brothers, it is a niche show that ran on late-nite television. But Anchor Bay and producer Bill Panzer gave this show immense respect.
In comparison to most television boxed sets, the amount of extra material in Season Six is impressive. In comparison to previous seasons, it is as though the prom queen fled the dance with the quarterback in tow and left a handful of glee club representatives behind to pick up.
The vast majority of the interviews are with writer James Thorpe and supervising music editor Hal Beckett. I certainly don't want to minimize Hal Beckett's contributions to the show, but he is essentially there to supplement the vast body of music produced for the series by Roger Bellon. Though Hal has interesting insights to share, I wouldn't have chosen the supervising music editor to be one of the central figures in the extra features. (To put it in perspective, Hal is not listed among the 243 credited cast and crew at IMDb.) For his part, James Thorpe repeats himself in nearly every interview, and they actually reuse his interview footage several times. At least these two get to talk; most of the episode extras are padded with lengthy excerpts from the very episode we just finished watching. In contrast with previous seasons, the extras have taken an annoying nose dive. We do get scant words from Panzer, Abramowitz, and Paul that compensate.
The second most frequent extra is five screen tests with the five Raven hopefuls. It was fine to include each of these with their respective episodes, but it also would have worked well putting them all together.
There are noticeable exceptions to the general blandness of the extras. Director Richard Martin gives a handful of ever-colorful commentaries; he either has a deeply dry sense of humor or he is one of the most conceited individuals on the planet. I'm going with the former, because Martin made me laugh frequently with his "detractors can go to hell" routine. The Wingfield-Byrnes commentary on "Indiscretions" is stellar, laced with a sense of mutual respect and camaraderie. I've come to deeply respect the words of Panzer and Abramowitz, and though they get little air time in Season Six their words still ring true.
Periodic additional extras such as behind-the-scenes, stunts, bloopers, and such are worth watching. Objectively, the extras from this season are better than what you'd get on most television DVD sets. Subjectively, they pale in comparison to the bar set by previous Highlander sets.
I'm not sure why there are eight discs, because the material could have fit onto six with no loss in quality. However, there are about three discs' worth of overarching extras to commemorate the final season of Highlander. Of these, two stand out. The first is "Swordmaster," a retrospective with Bob Anderson. Bob is a colorful and engaging speaker with decades of Hollywood experience. He made the show shine, and it is wonderful to hear about his experiences as swordmaster. The second is "Immortal Memories," a Q & A with most of the heavy hitters involved with the show over the years. From favorite quickenings to favorite bad guys, we hear entertaining reflections on the series that are moving in their sincerity. It is as close as most of us will come to talking one-on-one with the people who made the show.
"400 Years: The Journeys of Duncan Macleod" is an extended clip gallery of Duncan's exploits in chronological order. It is not as effective as either the final two-part episode or the "Immortal Memories" featurette at encapsulating the show. I've seen the episodes, give me something new. "Favorite Quickenings" is a little better because brief interviews are interspersed with the clips of quickenings, which gives us a cohesive perspective on the effects behind the show. "La Carrera Panamericana" is a documentary about a famous Mexican automobile race that Adrian Paul took part in. It has little to do with the show, but it's a creative extra to include. The stalwart Watcher Chronicles return along with the CD-Rom content we've come to expect. Finally, we have "Finale Backstage," which isn't bad except that it deals entirely with a two-part episode from Season Three and has nothing to do with Season Six.
Aside from pointing out that the audio quality is about the same as the previous five seasons, all that is left is to dive into the episodes themselves. As always, the discussions below contain spoilers.
When I reviewed the Season Five finale "Archangel" I said, "The sets are bad, the episode fails to gel in any way...basically, this is a last-minute attempt at spectacle pulled out of the air and given a coat of red paint. The episode is a complete disappointment..." In retrospect, I was being too kind.
"Avatar" picks up where "Archangel" left off, pitting a remorseful Duncan MacLeod against Ahriman, an ageless Zoroastrian demon who wreaks havoc on the world every thousand years. As annoying as this subplot is, it could have eked out a modicum of apprehension or drama under ideal conditions. If the audience is going to suspend their disbelief enough to go along with this wretched premise, we could at least be rewarded with apocalyptic imagery. Night could turn to day, lawyers and used car salesmen could rise to positions of ultimate authority, imprisoning all of mankind. The rivers could flow with blood. The streets could echo with the lamentations of women, tortured screams of men, and the incessant whine of children: "Mommy, are we at the end of the world yet? Tell Ahriman to stay on his side of the car!"
The reality is anticlimactic. Duncan goes to a temple for a year, and the only thing that has changed when he comes back is the price of gasoline. End of the world, huh? How sporting of Ahriman to sit in the corner and knit booties while Duncan gets his head together. When Duncan does finally resurface, we get an hour's worth of bleeding roses, possessed radios, and other terrifying stuff. Through it all, the main plotline of a confused cadaver dealing with reanimation stumbles along. Meanwhile, Duncan asks Joe to do some research for him. On what? "Evil," of course. Thanks for narrowing it down.
Not only is this episode lame beyond all reason, it is boring and muddled to
boot. The acting is understated to the point of unconsciousness, the editing is
confusing, and Ahriman is about as terrifying as a mean-spirited circus clown
(which is somewhat scary to be sure, but nothing a good nap wouldn't cure). I
guess what I'm trying to say is that I've never seen a less apocalyptic
There is only one thing that raises "Armageddon" above the F grade, and that is Jim Byrnes in the temptation scene. Ahriman pays Joe a visit and offers him his legs back. Byrnes digs deep and delivers a truly moving performance, making us feel his ache as though our own legs were missing. In fact, Jim single-handedly gives the rest of the episode a little extra spark as it coasts off of his emotional fuel.
Otherwise, "Armageddon" is another helping of the crap that is the Ahriman subplot. The whole time I was watching this episode, I was terrified that the Zoroastrian prankster was going to monopolize the entirety of Season Six. Thankfully, the misguided side road dead-ends here.
"Armageddon" introduces a priest who is another of Duncan's good friends. Father Beaufort is a Father Bernard clone, hastily contrived and less interesting. This character apparently exists to represent humanity, one lone soul that is in peril through Ahriman's sinister lies. The episode becomes about saving Father Beaufort, presumably because showing actual scenes of world domination would have been too expensive. Considering the utter lack of epic misdeeds thus far from Ahriman, the corruption of a priest is actually a positive step toward malignance (although calling it "apocalyptic" is a big reach).
So the world is about to enter a thousand-year reign of darkness, but Duncan will save the day. All he has to do is figure out how to confront Evil. At the zero hour, the Watchers come through by uncovering a cave in the middle of the suburbs that has gone untouched for 10,000 years. In this cave are rather fresh-looking Crayola drawings of stick figures confronting Ahriman. One of them is a champion who lays down his sword and stands still. I'm really not doing this scene justice, because it is as laughable, implausible, and ill-contrived as scenes can get.
Armed with this new insight, Duncan initiates Armageddon by meditating in a
corner. He has a few rounds of shadow-boxing with Ahriman, recites some
metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and that's it. Whew! The world is now safe from
bleeding roses and red clouds of vapor. I for one will sleep better tonight.
* "Sins of the Father"
Now that Duncan has saved the world from a thousand-year enslavement by winning Armageddon, what's next? Well, he gets a well-earned vacation as Alex Raven takes the lead.
You're going to hear more about this, so we might as well get it out of the way now. Everyone from the producers to the fans knew that Highlander: The Series was a sinking ship. But Highlander is a franchise, and therefore not worthy of being unceremoniously beheaded. The solution is obvious: spinoff series. In this case, the spinoff was to feature a sexy and capable female Immortal with a long history, wry sense of humor, and enough charisma to helm her own series. Now think back with me along the last five seasons. Is there anyone who fits that description? A strong-but-quirky female Immortal who could easily break off of the main thread and star in her own series? Perhaps Elizabeth Gracen's Amanda, a character who steps in and out of Duncan's life without fanfare?
The choice is so patently obvious that I cannot fathom any other. Gracen may have been playing hard-to-get, but she couldn't have been that unavailable because she was the eventual lead in Highlander: The Raven. This hindsight makes the "spinoff tryout" episodes even more annoying, but even if the eventual outcome had been in doubt it still isn't a good idea. If there ever was a doubt that Adrian Paul is the anchor of this series, "Sins of the Father" and the other Raven pilot episodes prove it.
Don't get me wrong, Dara Tomanovich gives a sporting performance, setting
the pace that other Raven wannabes must equal. She is wry and capable, with
loads of sex appeal. And even though MacLeod is relegated to the wings,
"Sins of the Father" feels more like Highlander than the
previous three episodes have. Nonetheless, it grows ever more apparent that
Season Six is adrift, with little hope on the horizon.
* "Diplomatic Immunity"
At long last, we're treated to a relatively normal Highlander episode. Adrian Paul is ostensibly the lead (although his reduced screen time is still apparent), the episode features Immortals instead of metaphysical demons or witches casting spells, and the plot explores a noble morality theme.
Nonetheless, "Diplomatic Immunity" lacks "it." Immortal scourge Willie Kingsley is yet another of those incorrigible scoundrels that Duncan is so fond of. Jasper Britton does a decent job with the role; it isn't his fault that we've seen basically the same character ten times before. Adrian Paul seems distant, unengaged (rightfully so from what I've seen of the season thus far). We know where this episode is going as soon as the central conflict presents itself.
"Diplomatic Immunity" would have been a clunker in the context of
previous seasons. Sadly, it is the only reminder of classic Highlander
that we have to cling to in Season Six. At least the mod Sixties flashbacks are
* "Patient Number 7"
It was a mistake to cast Emile Abossolo M'bo as an orderly in this episode. He formerly played the memorable Immortal Luther, and the contrast of that memory makes the dullness of this season even harder to bear.
As a Highlander episode, "Patient Number 7" is fair to middlin'. As a La Femme Nikita episode, it would fit right in. There isn't anything wrong with Alice Evans or her portrayal of Kyra; in fact, her screen presence is riveting. The flashback scene that shows her flirtation with MacLeod is lusty, funny, and satisfying.
So what's wrong with "Patient Number 7"? It just doesn't feel like Highlander. Alice Evans is the lead instead of Adrian Paul; in fact, his screen time is so reduced as to be an afterthought. The episode is a basic espionage thriller that could have been part of any series on television. That is not why I watch Highlander. The final insult is Kyra's quickening, which is rendered in soft focus with a decidedly glamorous bent. Can't have our sexy new Immortal lead rumpling her hair in the quickening, can we?
There are other annoyances. Milos Vladic is a cardboard stereotype of a bad
Immortal. The basic premise of the plot is unreasonable: an 800-year-old
bodyguard decides to ditch her guns and take a vacation with her charge, even
though he is involved in a high-profile case against renowned terrorists? It
rings hollow. But these are minor annoyances next to the overall feeling that
Highlander is visibly slipping away.
* "Black Tower"
Finally, we get an entire episode with Adrian Paul. His enemy is a bad Immortal with a 400-year-old grudge against MacLeod. On top of that, "Black Tower" is purely action-driven, forcing MacLeod to use all of his skills to stay alive. Sounds good, right?
What an abysmal waste. Bring back the Raven wannabes, please. If this is what passes for a Highlander episode these days, give me a sword and I'll decapitate Duncan MacLeod myself.
"Black Tower" is one of the cheesiest, least inspired, most predictable pieces of garbage I've seen in any series. "Patient Number 7" ripped off La Femme Nikita. "Black Tower" rips off MacGyver, Die Hard, and Hackers...and not the good parts, either.
The episode begins with Duncan wining and dining a timid woman who "doesn't go out much." If her "subtle" clues don't tip you off that she's a plant, you haven't watched much TV. Before you know it, our completely innocent femme fatale has been kidnapped and whisked away to the Black Tower. There, Duncan finds out that he's the prey in a twisted game of death. Four abject stereotypes with guns chase him down corridors, spraying bullets and whooping with redneck glee. (They conveniently stop chasing Duncan when he closes a door behind himself, but I digress.)
Meanwhile, our nefarious Immortal watches from a nest of television screens. Running this technological show is Dice (Alexi Kaye-Campbell), the most offensive and grating stereotype of a computer geek I have even seen. (Dice makes Alan Cumming's portrayal of Boris in Goldeneye seem suave and restrained by comparison.) As the hunt continues, Duncan uses twine, cleaning chemicals, broomsticks, and other handy weapons to whittle down his enemies. Will Duncan get to the top of the Black Tower in time to save the girl, be betrayed by the girl, form an uneasy alliance with Dice, and turn the evil Immortal's technology against him?
I don't know what is worse: The hackneyed plot, irritating stereotypes,
predictable outcome, or the inanity of the Immortal's grudge against MacLeod. I
do know that "Black Tower" is the worst Highlander episode yet,
and among the worst episodes of any mainstream TV series. I'd rather watch
reruns of The Real World: Dental Checkups. The worst part is that I fear
Season Six is not done with us yet.
Grade: F --
* "Unusual Suspects"
It may be that I've had it up to my ponytail with this interminable season, but "Unusual Suspects" is another entry in the long list of episodes that had me begging for the fast-forward button. I did not use it. I did, however, employ the "stop" button, did some housework, and felt better for the trade.
It is true, I did not watch this whole episode. I've watched five entire seasons of Highlander in the course of these reviews, viewing every minute of every episode. But I simply could not take another second of this "comedy" episode. The overacting was so wretched, the plot so tired, the humor so utterly misplaced that it was actually painful to watch.
"Unusual Suspects" reunites us with Fitzcairn in a whodunnit episode. Comedy episodes have been an effective ballast when the darkness of the series threatens to overwhelm viewers. Last season gave us a rash of ill-advised comedy episodes that became less and less bearable (with the exception of "The Stone of Scone," which could have been the sole comedy episode of the season as far as I'm concerned). Assuming that "Black Tower" wasn't a poorly disguised comedy episode, "Unusual Suspects" is the first of the season. Even so, it is too soon.
Roger Daltrey gave us one of the most memorable Immortals of the series. His death was tragic, providing one of the emotional touchstones of Highlander. "The Stone of Scone" was sweet because it took us entirely into the past, allowing us to relive the heydays of Duncan and Hugh. "Unusual Suspects" is a desperate ploy to recapture that sweetness. It worked once. Twice is pushing your luck too far.
The basic problem is that no one in "Unusual Suspects" has the
least bit of dignity or grace. Cleo Rocos channels Kate Capshaw in Indiana
Jones and The Temple of Doom, giving us a blustery bimbo with a shriek that
shatters glass. (Literally, in a recurring gag throughout the episode. Yuk yuk.)
The men in the episode are interchangeable boors. And how is this for comedy?
Hugh is discovered after he was supposed to be dead, and vanishes into the
shadows. Where does Duncan find him ten seconds later? Fully dressed in a suit
That is where I turned it off. Admittedly, I don't know how this episode turns out. And I'm okay with that.
If you ignore Duncan's backseat role, "Justice" is a decent (if somewhat generic) Highlander episode. You can almost forget that "Justice" is another in a series of Raven spinoff tryouts.
Katya (Justina Vail) is a crossbow-wielding redhead on the trail of Armando
Baptista (Grant Russell), a seemingly upstanding newspaper baron. Duncan gets
involved, and before long he finds himself in the unenviable position of
tutoring Katya in the subtleties of vengeance. The plot is reminiscent of
previous Highlander morality struggles, intricate and executed with
class. Grant Russell brings the acting level up a notch, Duncan acts like
Duncan, and for once the hell-raising female Immortal has a believable plot
* "Deadly Exposure"
Hold onto your seats, because I've got a surprise for you. "Deadly Exposure" features an ass-kicking female Immortal on a noble quest. The contestant in the Raven lottery this time is Regan Cole (Sandra Hess), a bounty hunter with a lascivious streak. She once collected a bounty on MacLeod, a misunderstanding that led to some sexy hilarity. Four hundred years later, she's posing as a stripper and hauling in perps.
When a bust goes bad in Miami, she finds herself on the trail of one of the world's most notorious terrorists. Her inside information irritates Interpol, who think they have the fugitive well covered. Regan covertly glides around Paris, gaining entrance to the scene of a high-profile summit. She thwarts an attempted execution, takes out the bad guy, and the world is a safer place for her actions.
This episode would have been at home in an overblown '80s action program.
Like the next episode, "Two of Hearts," "Deadly Exposure"
features a parade of bad action television clichés. Highlander has
always had an image problem, with people dismissing it as cheesy fluff before
coming to recognize the creativity and depth poured into the series. Episodes
like "Deadly Exposure" are nightmares for the Highlander fan on
the defensive because they are entirely disposable, lacking the depth that
characterizes the series.
* "Two of Hearts"
Season Six has so far struggled to cover the absence of Adrian Paul and the host of characters we've grown to love over the years. In "Two of Hearts," the creative team gives up entirely. "Two of Hearts" contains no recurring Highlander characters. We don't see so much as MacLeod's barge, much less a watcher or a tertiary Highlander character.
Instead, "Two of Hearts" gives us the third episode in a row (and the fifth of the season) to feature an ass-kicking female Immortal on a noble quest to rid the world of evil. By now, I shouldn't be surprised that Bill Panzer and company have tossed the series to the wolves. Allow me to be very clear on this point: I have no problem with the concept of a spinoff character, and I'm not opposed to a parade of strong female action heroes. I object, however, to using the series itself as a pilot program. How hard would it have been to cast the lead for Highlander: The Raven behind the scenes, make a firm decision, live with it, and introduce her for an episode or two in Season Six? Aside from obviously taking advantage of the audience, the rehash of episode after episode with essentially the same plot grows tiresome.
Bill Panzer says in the extras that "Two of Hearts" is Moonlighting meets Highlander, and he's right. "Two of Hearts" features yet another scorned woman and a mortal mate who is aware of her Immortality. Jack Ellis does a good job as Nick, the careworn heavy who loves an Immortal vigilante. He and Claudia Christian (who plays the final Raven wannabe of the season, Katherine) had decent chemistry.
The rest of the episode uses the worst of cheesy action program clichés. The A Team was more convincing. Most of the episode features people dressed in black from head to toe carrying guns while peeking around corners. Katherine and Nick are supposed to be experienced mercenaries -- so why do they ignore available cover as they run backlit through clouds of steam? Why does Katherine wear high heels with castanets in the soles when she's trying to make a quiet entrance? Why does Nick leap through the air spraying bullets from a pair of handguns when a single, carefully placed bullet would do? Above all, why is it that our intrepid duo can simply outrun a hail of bullets without a scratch? The producers must have confused the Highlander audience with eight-year-old boys who grew up on Knight Rider reruns.
At least "Two of Hearts" gives us a square swordfight and a
reasonable quickening. Claudia Christian wasn't the problem, nor was Jack Ellis.
Had this been an episode of Simon and Simon or Remington Steele or
another '80s action/mystery series, no problem. But this is Highlander.
Where is the Highlander?
For obvious reasons, the credits for this season do not feature Alexandra Vandernoot, Stan Kirsch, or Lisa Howard. Those characters have been replaced in the opening credits by Peter Wingfield and Elizabeth Gracen (in addition to Jim Byrnes, the last man standing beside Adrian Paul). Well, the season is now seventy percent complete and we have yet to see either Methos or Amanda.
To be honest, I had flat-out given up on Season Six and started wondering whether the boxed set would make a nice doorstop. But something unexpected happened in this episode: Methos showed up and brought with him the old Highlander magic.
"Indiscretions" reminds me of why I love this show. The bickering banter between Methos and Joe is in top form. The frantic energy of the escape-scenario plot perfectly suits the spirit of the show. "Indiscretions" gives us an appropriately nasty Immortal with a plausible agenda. Flashbacks inform present-day events. We gain personal insights into Methos and Joe as both individuals and partners. Good writing, good acting, and chemistry cause all of the elements to feed off of each other, giving us an episode that is more than it objectively should be.
"Indiscretions" could have taken place in any season; it is independent of any plot cues that would link it to an overall story arc. (The same could be said for the bulk of Season Six episodes, but I mean it as a compliment in this case.) But "Indiscretions" did take place in Season Six; in fact it was the last Highlander episode filmed. Adrian Paul is not in the episode. Beyond that, he wasn't even part of the show at that point. Paul had wrapped the final episodes and left by the time "Indiscretions" was filmed.
These facts suggest a curious reinterpretation of what might have been going on in Season Six. Adrian Paul is the cornerstone of the series, and without him it flounders. However, signs suggest that Paul was somewhat brittle in the latter episodes. Perhaps his mixture of grief, involvement, and attitude damaged the creative efforts this season. I can't help but notice that as soon as Paul went away, Wingfield and Byrnes brightened up noticeably and delivered energetic performances. It is a powerful coincidence. There is no way to truly know what disappointments or creative conflicts led to these circumstances. I take from the evidence that powerful emotions plagued the team in this final season, and it must have been difficult to deliver under that pressure.
In any case, the episode works. Joe is at his most endearing, representing the human side of the formula that has brought us such rich interactions. Wingfield gets a final chance to realize the character of Methos, and he nails it. Wingfield plays up Methos's wisdom, gleaned through five millennia of life. He also takes the gloves off and dominates in the sword battle. We've been waiting a long time to see Methos unleashed, and the reward is well worth the wait.
Thank you, "Indiscretions," for affirming that my previous
admiration for Highlander was not a mirage.
* "To Be"
The two-parter "To Be" and "Not To Be" reframe the plot of It's a Wonderful Life to bring key actors from Highlander past back into the fold for a curtain call. Though the device is transparent, no one cares. "To Be" and "Not To Be" are wish fulfillment for Highlander fans, plain and simple. From a purely critical standpoint it isn't entirely successful, but as a Highlander fan I could think of many worse ways for the series to go out.
The episode opens with a tongue-in-cheek gag that reintroduces Amanda beautifully. From there we're taken into yet another "Duncan must rescue kidnapped woman" scenario. Fortunately, Methos is there to distract us with some well-timed words of wisdom for MacLeod.
The episode continues down its "classic" (read: generic, but somehow comforting) Highlander orbit, leading to the inevitable standoff. But this standoff takes a detour that no one expects. Duncan is killed, but instead of the typical two-minute dirt nap, he has an actual post-death experience. The host of his afterlife adventures is none other than Fitz. But this is not the bumbling Fitz we've grown to love. This one is poised and deadly serious.
>From that moment onward, we're treated to an emotional boat ride. The cares of four hundred years noticeably weigh on Duncan. For perhaps the first time, we see his troubles laid bare. The lump in my throat may have been slightly manipulated, but at least the writers were able to find a way to heighten the emotion of this episode.
The first contestant in the alternate reality sweepstakes is Amanda. Let's be honest, her character has never inspired trust or comfort. On the other hand, she has inspired lust and mischievous antics. The dark Amanda is Amanda at her most statuesque; deadly, cold, and incorrigibly greedy. As horrible a character as dark Amanda was, I could not suppress a flutter at seeing her slink around in that skintight black dress with the impressive décolletage.
As the fever dream continues we see Joe Dawson, Horton, and Tessa Noel. Each
time we see a new character, we realize anew what vast influence Duncan MacLeod
has had -- both on the characters in the show and on us as fans of the show.
* "Not To Be"
Should reviews be objective? Perhaps. But "Not To Be" brought home the truth that six seasons of Highlander are at a close. I cannot ignore the completely subjective feeling of devastation that "Not To Be" has left in its wake.
To be clear, we're not talking about "sell all of your earthly possessions and join a cloister" devastation. No, this is mild devastation, a shadow that lingered with me through the night and well into the next day. I felt a sense of loss, but also of appreciation for the creative road that the Highlander cast and crew paved for us over the years.
"Not To Be" delivers on the setup of the previous episode by continuing the dark interpersonal explorations, delivering a series of moments that we've subconsciously been longing to see. How many Highlander fans wished to see Tessa and Duncan reunited? Who wanted to see a Methos-Duncan duel? Who wanted to see Richie one last time? There are several wish-fulfilling moments scattered throughout "Not To Be" like pearls on a string.
In the end, there can be only one. Adrian Paul may not have been acting when
he let a tear stream down his face. It was a hell of a run, and I thank Bill
Panzer, David Abramowitz, the writers, directors, cast, and crew for giving us
one of television's most imaginative series.
I haven't attempted to hide my disappointment with this season. For the first time ever in my life as a Highlander enthusiast, I found myself utterly uncaptivated. I can only hope that my distaste is a quirk, and that other Highlander fans can glean the familiar feeling of excitement and adventure from these episodes.
Even so, the last three episodes and extras bring home the enormity of closure. These actors, writers, producers, directors, and crew delivered one of television's great successes, particularly in the fantasy genre. Highlander took us to places we otherwise could not have gone, and did so with intelligence, style, and wit.
For the first time, I cannot recommend this boxed set for purchase. It is nowhere near as good a value as the other sets, with half the episodes, uninspired extras, and a great deal of padding. But Highlander completists who purchase the set regardless will have plenty of good moments to look forward to, such as a pair of worthwhile series-wide featurettes; priceless interviews with Paul, Wingfield, and Byrnes; and a trio of uplifting episodes that uniquely reward long-time Highlander fans.
The Highlander has faded into the mists. Call off the search warrant and let him live in peace.
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 620 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Never-Before-Seen Footage Including Deleted and Alternate Scenes and Recently Discovered Footage
* Interviews with David Abramowitz, Jim Byrnes, Ken Gord, Stan Kirsch, Bill Panzer, Adrian Paul, James Thorpe, David Tynan, Peter Wingfield and More
* Watcher Chronicles
* Photo Gallery
* Audio Commentaries from Jim Byrnes, Richard Martin, and Peter Wingfield
* "Finale Backstage" Featurette
* "Swordmaster" Retrospective with Bob Anderson
* "Immortal Memories" Season Finale Retrospective
* "400 Years: The Journeys of Duncan Macleod"
* "Favorite Quickenings" Featurette
* "La Carrera Panamericana" Featurette
* CD-ROM: Actor, Director, and Writer Bios
* CD-ROM: All 13 Original Scripts
* CD-ROM: Production Notes and Shooting Schedules
* IMDb: Highlander: The Series
* IMDb: Highlander: The Raven
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review of Season One
* DVD Verdict Review of Season Two
* DVD Verdict Review of Season Three
* DVD Verdict Review of Season Four
* DVD Verdict Review of Season Five
* TV Tome Episode Guide for Entire Highlander Series